Food Jobs: Canning & Creaming with Mother Moo

Karen Klemens


At first glance, Mother Moo Creamery appears to juggle a dual identity like a comic book superhero. Past the electric blue counter and collection of antique ice cream dishes, there are conspicuous hints -- a commercial six-burner stainless steel stove and racks of empty jars beyond -- of another main facet to the shop.

Between selling ice cream alongside a line of jams, jellies, and preserves under the label Mothercluck, Karen Klemens leads canning and preserving workshops. A visitor will quickly learn that food preservation takes on a gamut of various incarnations: curing bacon, pickling, and of course, making ice cream. As a certified master food preserver, Klemens wouldn't want her shop to be anything but multifunctional and accessible.

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Her embrace of community guided key business decisions when it came time to establish her shop. She looked for a retail space located in a family friendly neighborhood that kept a bit of distance from similar shops like Bulgarini Gelato. A former Domino's Pizza amidst the retail medley clustered in Sierra Madre's compact downtown met both requirements.

"It's important for me to know my customers who come in here and [for them to] feel that they could be comfortable here. It's why I have [a concrete floor]. They can drop ice cream on it. They can draw on it with crayons. It's no frills," she said.

Antique Ice Cream Dishes


People also find comfort in the constant, so Klemens has a handful of flavors always available: salty chocolate, vanilla, ginger, cookies and cream, chocolate chip, and cinnamon coffee. Seasonal flavors like fig, pomegranate, and orange Sichuan pepper compose the other half of the menu.

She depends on local farmers and purveyors like McGrath Family Farms, Strauss Family Creamery, and Ken Lee's Top Notch Produce for most of ingredients that go into her ice cream and preserves.

Klemens' appreciation for local produce began at childhood. She grew up in the Illinois town of Morton Grove, witnessing her mother wield a green thumb that could produce a thriving basil plant from a single small leaf snagged while on a grocery store jaunt.

Jams & Jellies

"I learned everything from my mom. She is really the master gardener of my life. She was a mother to four children and did not drive. We walked everywhere or took the bus. That included going to the grocery store. Feeding a family of six and not having a car was not easy. We went to the grocery store a lot," she said.

She recalls her mother making pickles, but did not get into food preservation herself until she made plum preserves with a friend in a sweltering August in 2004. It took almost all day, laboring in a hot kitchen made even more uncomfortable by the weather, and her pregnancy. Nevertheless, Klemens was hooked.

Since then, she has taken classes taugh by experts like Ernest Miller and Delilah Snell, certified master food preservers, and Kevin West, a journalist and preserving instructor with a book on the subject due out next summer, whenever she could do so.

When she learned that the UC Master Food Preservers Program was to be relaunched earlier this year, Klemens applied and was accepted as one of 18 students in Miller's late March class. The intensive 12-week course coveres a range of food preservation techniques, and after completing the program, students are required to volunteer and continue their education on a yearly basis in order to retain certification.

Klemens teaches food preservation, while attending classes and workshops to stay updated on methodology as a result. She offers tuition assistance for those who can't afford to pay for her preservation classes.

"It was really important to me to give back to the community as a home preservation center through the Master Food Preserver Program and to open my doors to answer questions about any kinds of preservation," she said.

"The beauty of canning is use what you have. That's the whole movement behind home preservation," said Klemens. "You can reuse those jars over and over again. Not the lids, but you can reuse the screw tops and glass jars. It is a relatively inexpensive way of preservation. It doesn't require a whole lot of materials. You can use a very large pasta stockpot. You can make a trivet for the bottom by using things you might have in your house already."

Having mastered various food preservation techniques both down-home and complicated, Klemens ultimately chose making ice cream as a business venture for one simple reason.

"Ice cream is a happy business. People come in here and they're either happy or they want to be happy. It's comfort food in the purest form."

Mother Moo
17 Kersting Ct, Sierra Madre, 626-355-9650





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